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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Open just 16 days before the lockdown, Between the Lines stays the course

Why Juanita Stein won't let a pandemic sink her new bookstore

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Between the Lines had barely gotten started when it was swept up in a global pandemic that shut down the economy. Photos: Courtesy

Talk about bad timing. For months, we knew that Between the Lines was coming to the corner of Calles 62 and 53. The bookstore is the brainchild of a long-time resident who left a top position with a local publisher to pursue her dream. Juanita Stein was filled with justifiable optimism. Merida’s Centro Historico was thriving and she saw an unfilled niche — well-curated books, in English, for curious readers in an intimate setting. We all know what happened next. We talked to Ms. Stein about the bookstore, how she made the best of things, and where she goes from here.

Tell us the back-story: how did this bookstore come about and when did you open?

After seven years of dreaming about opening a bookstore in Santa Lucía, the space I had been looking at finally became available, and the finances too. I did the math, searched my soul, and asked my accountant for his opinion. When he said “Juanita, go for it!” I gave my notice at Yucatán Today after 11 years as Editorial Director and got to work. Five months later, after many adventures with suppliers, unpacking the last box, getting the last of a couple thousand items into inventory, and putting the final touches on the beautiful interior (thanks to my husband Jan), I opened the doors on March 4 of this year.

How many days were you open before you were forced to close and what was your first thought?

Sixteen days! I closed on March 20. I had gradually realized this decision was coming, but when I finally came to the conclusion it was inevitable, my first thought was … unprintable! And then I wanted to cry, it broke my heart because the response during the days I was open was so positive.

For those of us who missed the window of opportunity to visit Between the Lines, describe the space for us. And tell us the thought behind what you are stocking on the shelves.

Ohhh, it’s yummy! It’s in a restored colonial building, and it’s just the right size…42 square meters…with walls of bookshelves (organized by category; all books are in English), a huge display table full of stationery and journals, and many other cool items as well: reading glasses, desk essentials, and there’s a cozy reading corner (of course)! The central chandelier is…well, it has to be seen to be believed. There is a unique glasses display that you will get a huge kick out of. And…look up high! The upper edge of the high ceilings has slogans hand-painted all the way around the perimeter. These slogans tell you all you need to know about my vision: “In today’s digital world, the ultimate luxury is a handwritten note…Feel the pleasure of holding a book in your hands…What’s your story? Write it down…Eat. Sleep. Read…” To round things out, there are a couple of unexpected product lines that are a tip of the hat to doing things the old-fashioned way: fans imported from Sevilla, and carnival masks from Venice, all painstakingly made by hand.

Did you feel like the store was gaining momentum before it closed?

Yes! People loved it. If they stumbled on it by chance, they were enchanted. And if they saw my publicity and came in on purpose, they were…enchanted. I heard the same thing over and over: “It’s JUST what Mérida needed!” The thing is: there is something for EVERYONE.

So you have this gorgeous space for books, with neighbors that sell crafts, coffee and cocktails, all things that complement Between the Lines. Now everything’s in limbo, or is it?

Our little plaza (Carmesí) has four businesses in addition to mine: Básica Sociedad, with beautiful design items for your home (with a non-profit component); Miel Nativa, selling and educating about Yucatecan honeys; Uumbah handmade hammocks and other beautiful items; and a new branch of Voltacafé, part of the Apoala Group. The café is actually adjacent to my bookstore, and it’s a beautiful space with a full menu, from coffee to cocktails and delicious food to accompany both. And no, we are not in limbo anymore…we are all in the process of planning for the phased re-opening of everything in Yucatán. The café will probably be first, and VERY soon!

I’ve seen you keeping the spirit of the shop alive online. How did that go. And are you physically open again?

There’s always something good that comes out of a disaster, right? If I had stayed open, I would never have had the time to make the online catalogs of my products and offer home delivery. Now, even when I will be able to receive people inside the doors once again, I will continue to offer sales and delivery from my website catalogs. In the first two phases of reopening, I am only allowed to receive people at the door…which basically means you still order online but you can come pick up your purchase, and if you need to see more products I can always show them to you, something I could not do with deliveries. And whether it’s a pick-up or delivery, you receive a gift certificate for 10% of your purchase, to be redeemed inside the shop when we get to the third phase of doors wide open! I am still doing a re-organization of my shop, so I will announce when I’m ready for Phase One! It will be very soon. Meanwhile…check out my catalogs! This is your chance to support a local business with a totally unique concept. Shop online at: https://www.between-the-lines.com.mx/new-arrivals and check back frequently, because I’m adding new inventory all the time.

Do you regret leaving Yucatan Today (which was also affected by coronavirus crisis)? Are you still in touch with the old crew?

It was such a tough decision! It was my home away from home for 11 years, my family. But no, I don’t regret leaving, because every single person in the company was totally supportive of — and excited about — my new venture. I have stayed in very close contact with them, and am blessed to have the love and friendship of them all. Andrea, the director, continues to be one of my closest friends, and we are still watching each other’s backs! Yes, they are also going through a tough time with this pandemic, but the online magazine is spectacular! And, just like Between the Lines…we’re not going anywhere! We have adapted to the crisis, with new ways to keep doing what we do, and we will be back in our original forms before long.

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